By Neha Kirpal
One of the reasons that Geeta Dharmarajan set up the non-profit organisation Katha in 1988 was an alarming UNICEF report which found that, every day, 400 children in India die of diarrhoea or other water-borne diseases such as dysentery, jaundice or cholera.
It is with the same motivation that the Supergirls series of children’s books in English, Hindi and Telugu has been published by Geeta’s NGO, which works in the field of community development, child welfare, education and literature. The protagonists in each of the books are women or girls – ‘Supergirls’ – who are helping children understand issues related to cleanliness, water, sanitation and hygiene.
The books, with stories put together by an array of reputed writers and artists, are meant for kids aged five years and above, and are edited by Geeta Dharmarajan.
The first book in the series, Supergirls Play a Trick, introduces young readers to “teeny weeny meanies” called germs – good and bad – and the habits one can adopt to avoid them from entering our bodies. The book’s main story is about two sisters, Tara and Nila, who with the help of their friends – water, soap, toothbrush, toothpaste and comb – play tricks on Germasura and his big army of germs.
The sisters demonstrate other ways in which they trick bad germs – covering their mouths while coughing, not walking barefoot, not eating food fallen on the ground, not picking their noses, keeping flies away from their food and covering water pots in the house with lids.
The second book, Supergirls Make a Difference, has playful poems and stories about water – its various forms and benefits. One of the main stories is ‘Kokila’s Wonderful Pot’, about storing water hygienically in order to avoid water-borne diseases.
‘The Tale of Makhilal’ is about a town where the fly is revered as a god, and its people are always sick – until one day a doctor comes and orders all the flies out, and everyone becomes healthy.
‘The Monster in The Lake’ is a story about keeping our lakes, wells and rivers clean in order to stay away from guinea worms and other impurities. The book also offers some useful steps on how to make a water filter at home.
In Supergirls Lead the Way, the focus is on sanitation habits. ‘Tobakachi Plays a Trick!’ is a story about a wicked asura who plans to make children sick with the help of Germasura and the Diarrhoea Gang. It is then that Lachmi and her gang of Supergirls learn how to make ORS and distribute it from home to home.
In ‘I Love My Long Plaits, But…’ by Arthy Muthanna, Rukmani’s mother finds ‘guests’ in her daughter’s long hair. The story is followed by a helpful list of easy home remedies to get rid of lice.
In ‘Saroja Sneezes Up a Storm!’ by Mamta Nainy, Saroja catches a cold. While treating it with a mixture of ginger and honey, the elders at home tell her how to ward off germs from her body: “Whether you are at work or play, wash your hands afterwards, every day!”.
In ‘Ainu Finds a Way!’ by Prerana Choudhury, Ainu digs a pond with the help of animals when her village is struck by torrential floods. The story throws light on several serious issues of water scarcity and other ills of development.
‘Topi to Let’ by Vanshika Goyal talks about a two-pit toilet as a solution to protect oneself from flies, aches and deaths. The book ends with a profile of Bindeshwar Pathak, founder of Sulabh International, an organisation that helps villagers and the urban poor build two-pit toilets in their homes.
The last book in the series, Supergirls Find a Solution, focuses among other things on menstrual health and hygiene. In ‘The Supergirls Solve the Mayasura Mystery’, Tobakachi is back hatching an evil plan with the help of Mayasura and the Menstrual Monster. They play on people’s ignorance and spread the superstition that girls should not go to school while menstruating.
Lachmi and her Supergirl friends go to Dr Mira who explains the natural process of menstruation to them, busting all their misinformed beliefs and myths. ‘Growing up Matters’ by Isha Wadhwa is about Nagu who gets her first period while in school. Her Supergirl friends help her with the basics of wearing a sanitary napkin and avoiding cramps.
‘Padman’ by the same author relates the story of Arunachalam Muruganantham, the man behind the invention of the low-cost, eco-friendly sanitary pads. It also includes a section with simple steps on how to make one’s own recyclable menstrual pads.
‘The Story of Bhim’ by Srividya Natarajan and S Anand is about the life of Dr Ambedkar told through some beautiful graphic paintings by Gond artists Durgabai and Subhash Vyam.
Another visually appealing one is ‘How Sukhomajri Became Happy Again’ with artwork by Taposhi Ghoshal. The story is about a village in Haryana that had no water or trees in the 1970s. The villagers all get together and decide to plant trees around the irrigation canal, thus preventing soil erosion.
Finally, the book’s ‘Get Inspired’ section features a real-life Supergirl, 14-year old Payal Jangid, the leader of the Child Parliament in her village in Rajasthan.
Overall, an enlightening read for adults, and a must-read for all children! Buy the books on Katha.